Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miss Bean is Gone

Last night around 9:45 p.m., our 9 year-old cat Jelly Bean started crying quite suddenly. In true cat fashion, she hid under our bed and we had to prod her out. As I put her in the cat carrier, I saw that her hind legs seemed heavy and unresponsive.

By 10:30, we were at the emergency veterinary hospital. I drove down with my older son in the back seat beside Miss Bean, trying to calm her down a bit. Her cries were heart breaking.

Vet clinics are the ultimate in private health care. If you've got the money, service is fast and efficient. I plunked down my credit card and the Bean was whisked into triage. By the time I'd come back from parking the car (I'd parked right at the door and left my flashers on so we could run in with her), my son and I were ushered into a small examining room and the vet and a student came in shortly thereafter.

The vet explained that Jelly Bean had a blood clot in her leg. It was probably due to her congenital heart murmur, which had never caused any problems over the years until last night. She then explained the prognosis, which was very, very poor despite the fact that Jelly Bean still had a bit of blood flow to the affected area. We were probably looking at a few weeks or months, with the distinct possibility of further blood clots and terrible pain. As humans, we always hear about clot busting drugs for stroke victims, but this did not seem to be an alternative for our cat.

If Jelly Bean had had a serious but treatable condition, I think we would have gone for the gold, but we were not prepared to spend thousands of dollars to give her a few more weeks of life, possibly in terrible pain. I think she would have needed an around-the-clock caregiver, just in case another clot formed and this too was impossible.

At this point, Jelly Bean had been given a substantial amount of morphine for the pain as well as a sedative since she had become extremely agitated and had actually bitten a technician. So we had to sit and wait until the sedative took effect before we could see her. My son called his brother, who was on the subway heading home from a friend's place. He got off the subway and got on the next train going back south and met us at the hospital just as a technician came in to say that we could see Jelly Bean. She was fairly calm by this point and was lying on a sheepskin-like blanket, wrapped in a towel. Her eyes were wet, probably from the effects of the various medications--but it looked like tears. The three of us patted her and spoke to her quietly. I kissed her head. Then we left.

Jelly Bean was euthanized shortly after midnight this morning, Aug. 31.

Jelly Bean was not an easy cat. She didn't like being held or patted very much, but she liked to stay nearby us, lying at our feet when we went to bed and then going to sleep with one of the boys, if they were still sleeping after my husband and I got up. She would often sit beside us on the couch if we were reading or watching TV.

Yes, it was only an orange tabby house cat who died. There are people dying from violence and starvation around the world as we speak and that's a reality we must fight. But she was our Bean and we're in mourning.

Bye-bye, JB. We loved you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New Part for NewMe

I have been quite quiet recently due to some health concerns. My back has been quite fragile since February and my 20K+ days of walking in Boston several weeks ago have tipped me over the edge once again into scary territory. I'm doing what I can to control things with the help of my yoga teacher, my naturopath and now a reflexologist. I have an appointment in mid-September to see my GP and will be asking for an MRI of my back. Forewarned is forearmed.

But wait...there's more!

Yesterday, I got a call from my knee surgeon's office offering me a surgery date: September 15th. The work complications arising from this date are just too hard to handle and I also want to have a better idea of what my back is up to, so I have refused the date. In its place, I have November 17th. Although I wish it were slightly earlier (yes, we have winter where I live!), from a work, family and spinal point of view, this is a much better date.

I continue to read and to muse, but my posts might be a bit spotty until I feel calmer and less worried.

Good thoughts sent my way are always appreciated!

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Jack

This morning, Canada lost one of its greatest politicians, Jack Layton.

It is a very sad day.

Here is the open letter he wrote shortly before his death.

RIP, Jack. You will be sorely missed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ah, Boston!

Yes, I disappeared for a little while.

I've just come back from spending a long weekend falling in love with a new city and having a little second honeymoon--in other words, travelling alone my husband for the first time in 18 years. It was great.

The new city I explored was Boston. What a fabulous place! My husband left six days before me to take a week-long course at Harvard. His employer asked him to go and footed the entire (hefty) bill. I think he's greatly appreciated in his field.

I flew into Boston on Friday morning and his course ended early Friday afternoon. Within an hour of his arriving back at the hotel, we hit the road running...and walked...and walked...and then we walked some more.

During my four days away from home, I racked up 3 days of 20,000 steps or more. On our last day, Monday, I only did about 15K steps. I have to admit, my unoperated hip is rather unhappy now, but it was still worth it.

I have always lived in walkable cities, so I adored Boston. Our hotel was about a 15 minute walk to the subway (the T). We were about 25 minutes walk from the heart of the Harvard campus, a wonderful exciting area. You can just feel the intellectual effervescence bubbling all around you. Lots of bookstores, music, young people reading great literature while sipping coffee. It made me want to be in my 20s again!

Boston is at the heart of American history. We spent a good part of our time walking the Freedom Trail and seeing some of the most important sites of the American revolution: the site of the Boston Massacre, the port where the Tea Party took place, Paul Revere's house (pop quiz: did you know that Paul Revere's father was French and that the family name was originally Rivoire?), etc. We took a walking tour led by a guide in Colonial dress. He was absolutely fantastic--a great actor, with a booming voice and incredibly knowledgeable. I really learned a lot about American history and I feel I now have a somewhat better understanding of the reasons behind certain fundamental political differences between Americans and Canadians (no, these differences have nothing to do with our relationship with Britain).

We were treated to both warm, sunny weather and rainy, muggy weather. On one of the rainy days, we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, an extraordinary gallery housing the impressive art collection of Isabella Gardner, an immensely wealthy patron of the arts of the 19th and early 20th century. That afternoon, with the rain pouring down, we nipped into the Coolidge cinema in the Coolidge Corner neighbourhood of Boston and bought tickets for the only movie neither of us had seen that was playing that day, a very strange, but quite good indie film called "Another Earth".

For the scientifically minded among you--and even die-hard artsy-fartsies like myself, I recommend the MIT museum. Wonderful.

Of course, we also took a little tour of the harbour. It was interesting, but the heat and all the walking got to me and...I dozed off a bit.

And graveyards, or, as they call them in Boston, burying grounds! I just love to read old tombstones and I got my money's worth in Boston. There's nothing like seeing where someone who died in the 1600s is buried. Just fascinating. Oh, and they used to write the verb "to lie" (as in "here lies John Smith") with a "y": here lyes John Smith. Many stones were also decorated with skulls. Didn't see any angels, just a whole lot of skulls. Hmm.

I was in Boston for two half and two whole days and every single meal I ate there was fantastic (OK, breakfast was pretty ordinary: we bought fruit and cereal at Whole Foods and ate in our hotel room). The Little Italy section of Boston, which seriously overlaps with many of the stops on the Freedom Trail, was full of restaurants. The first evening, we ate at Trattoria Il Panino, splitting a plate of antipasto and a fish dish. Just mouth-watering. If you go to the website, the second picture that comes up on the homepage screen shows the table where we ate (no, that's not us). We had lunch one day at the oldest restaurant in the US, the Union Oyster House. I recommend the clam chowder. A cupful is more than enough.

Eating seafood is a must in Boston. I regret not having had the opportunity to try fried clams (though I did have chowder twice), but I ate some might fine catch of the day at two different restaurants.

For burger lovers, I highly recommend Mr. Bartley's in Cambridge, right near the Harvard campus. We sat at a table with a family from France who had just arrived that day. They were very sweet and seemed to be really enjoying the American burger experience. With the exception of my husband's absolutely stellar homemade burgers, Bartley's burgers are the best I've ever had. You can have your burger with fries or onion rings, but neither hubby nor I did. The burger, with tomato and lettuce was plenty.

Although the streets were absolutely crawling with people carrying Mike's Pastries boxes, we didn't have the urge to try their famous cannolis. Nor did we try the ice cream at J.P. Licks. The meals we had were just too good to need any sweets. And fresh fruit from Whole Foods awaited us back in the hotel room.

The day we wandered around Coolidge Corner, we passed by Trader Joe's. Having heard about it from Ellen at Fat Girl Wearing Thin, I was really curious, but after peeking through the window and seeing that it was essentially a big grocery store, I passed up on the opportunity to explore. We were leaving the next day and I didn't want to have any trouble bringing food over the border. My husband had also heard good things about Trader Joe's. Maybe the next time we're in the States, we'll go in at the beginning of our trip and try out some of their wares.

I'm sure it seems pretty clear from what I've written that I absolutely ADORED Boston. I hope I'll get there again one day!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More BMI Bashing (A Good Thing)

Yes, recently I've been bashing away at the BMI. Who knows how many times I will be accused, openly or more subtly of simply suffering from sour grapes. Only time will tell.

But if you think what I have to say is a load of uninformed bull, maybe...just might take more kindly to the opinion of Dr. Arya Sharma, a world-renowned obesity specialist.

As my regular readers know, I have had my ups and downs with Dr. Sharma. Sometimes we just don't see eye to eye, not that I'm in personal contact with him, aside from a wonderful chat we had a few months ago when he was in town. However, the following article is, I believe, a must-read for those whose mental well-being seems to hinge on their current BMI number ("Yeah, hooray, today my BMI is 24.9. I'm therefore "normal". Or: "I've got to lose 22.3 pounds, otherwise I'm clinically overweight/obese and I am DOOMED.").

Here it is: Why I Don't Like BMI.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sour Grapes?

The Free Dictionary defines the expression "sour grapes" as:
  • denial of the desirability of something after one has found out that it cannot be reached or acquired
  • the attitude of affecting to despise something because one cannot or does not have it oneself
    [from a fable by Aesop]
I'm sure that at least one of my readers is convinced that this is my "real" problem with the BMI. It's not that it's a blunt or inaccurate measure of health or that it can potentially backfire on those who look to it as the bottom-line arbiter of good health nor that it can actually encourage individuals to give up healthy habits since their BMI still doesn't register at or below the correct number. No. It's that since clearly my own BMI is too high, I am just reacting with a petulant expression of sour grapes.

Well, sorry, but the lady is going to protest.

The sour grapes argument, in my opinion, actually hides some very serious and dangerous underlying messages.

I believe the most damaging underlying message is that an overweight person who criticizes the BMI does so only because she is too lazy, slovenly, weak-willed and greedy to suck it up and do the work required to lose weight. If she just put her nose to the grindstone, success would be hers. If she just stopped wallowing self-pity and shut her fat gob, she too would become svelte and healthy. The implication is that everyone under similar conditions will gain or lose weight in exactly the same way or at exactly the same rate (three British documentaries certainly beg to differ: Why Thin People Don't Get Fat, Super Slim Me and Super Skinny Me). It therefore follows that slim people are that way simply because they are more virtuous than fat people. If fat people only behaved like slim people, they would be slim too.

But let's go even further. Something perhaps even more insidious lies behind the above attitude: the overwhelming belief that achieving a "normal" BMI (or let's just say losing weight or looking good in a bikini or wearing a size 0) is purely a question of individual will and the choices one makes as an individual every day. It's the belief that we are ultimately the masters of our own fate.

Sadly, this manichean view of life--the black or white view that hard-working people succeed and slackers don't--permeates our society and enables those who "succeed" to lay the blame for failure squarely at the feet of the vast majority who, for reasons both within but more importantly outside their control do not become society's winners.

Let's be clear: I do not believe that we are merely puppets in the hands of some otherworldly being, or that our fate is written in stone the minute we burst into the world.

I consider myself someone who has worked and continues to work hard to achieve certain goals in life, be they financial, personal or health-related. In many ways, I consider myself a person who has succeeded in life by making and implementing decisions that have enabled her to overcome certain obstacles in life.

Yes, I admit it: I make choices. And choices seem to be at the heart of the belief that "you can do it if you only try", which underlies the whole weight loss movement.

But there's a problem when it comes to weight loss: despite what many medical professionals, laypeople, and reality TV show creators alike believe, not every person who is overweight eats like a pig and lies around watching TV all day. Not every person who exercises regularly and eats a balanced diet full of reasonable quantities of fresh, unprocessed foods is slim or at least no larger than 24.9 on the BMI. Like my 98-pound weakling friend, doing all the right things does not necessarily get you to goal.

Many people--particularly in North America--could no doubt benefit from making some better personal choices in what they eat. Do I worry about people who chug-a-lug large bottles of sugar-laden pop every day? Am I concerned about the current spate of commercials suggesting parents serve their children a product for breakfast whose total calories are composed of 50% fat and 40% sugar (the other 10% does have some food value)? Of course I am.

Do I make what I consider thoughtful, healthy food choices in my own life? Yes, again.

And would I be thrilled to see better phys ed programs in the schools; more walkable cities; better public transit; a tax on junk food and subsidies for locally grown, pesticide and hormone-free foods; the elimination of food deserts.

I firmly believe that there are many societal measures and personal choices we can make that do contribute to making us healthier individuals and creating a healthier society. They just won't make us slim.

On a population level, we know that 95% of people who diet fail (and fail repeatedly) and we strongly suspect that many of these people end up even heavier than before they dieted. Evidence is also growing that what the body perceives as on-going starvation (aka dieting) acts as a damper on one's metabolism, making it increasingly hard to lose weight and much easier and quicker to gain it back. While choice can make the difference on a personal level, society-wide the only thing we can be sure of is that people spend upwards of $60 billion yearly trying to lose weight and failing to do so in both the short but especially the long-run.

It seems that our obsession with the BMI has led us further away from striving for good health, as opposed to a "good" number. We don't actually know what the effects on population health would be if, as a society, we implemented campaigns to improve our health through eating healthier, less processed foods rather than simply concentrating on limiting portions or eating lo-cal Frankenfoods. Nor do we know what would happen if ALL kids in school were encouraged to be active, rather than shaming the fat kids into withdrawing from sports while pouring lots of money, time and effort into building elite athletic teams that build the school's reputation.

If as both individuals and a society, we focused on positive attitudes and activities rather than on striving for a magical number, we would end up in a world filled with healthy people of many different sizes. That's not sour grapes. That's striving for health for myself, as an individual, and for a healthier world. Rejecting the tyranny of the BMI is not sour grapes, it means taking the focus off aiming for a number and putting it where it belongs: aiming for a healthy life.